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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dr Frank Rushbrook, CBE 1914-2014

Dr Rushbrook visiting the Rushbrook Fire Laboratory in 2011
It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr Frank Rushbrook, CBE on the 17th February 2014, aged 99. Frank was a true visionary who will forever be associated with the creation of the academic discipline of Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh and was a life-long friend and supporter of the group.

During his long and distinguished career in the Fire Service, with time spent in Edinburgh and London during the war, Frank rose to the rank of Firemaster of Edinburgh and South-East of Scotland Fire Brigade before retiring in 1970. The post-war years were a time of rapid technological change. Dr Rushbrook saw that there was a need for graduates skilled in Fire Safety Engineering to interact more positively with established engineering disciplines and architects to solve issues of fire safety in modern, increasingly large and complex buildings. From the early signs of change, Frank knew that education was key.

In the early 1970s, he convinced the University of Edinburgh to take a step into the unknown to establish a Department for Fire Engineering – a global first. Frank set about raising the funds to support the appointment of a professor and two lecturers. Under the leadership of Professor Rasbash (with the then Dr Drysdale and Dr Marchant) the team at Edinburgh developed the first postgraduate course in Fire Safety Engineering. The curriculum broke new ground and set academic standards for the subject. It was expanded into undergraduate and postgraduate courses as far afield as Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the USA and The University of Canterbury in New Zealand. With the success of the postgraduate programme, Frank stepped in again to help raise the funds to support a third lecturer and see the Department through some tough times. As always, when Frank stepped in, it was to guarantee that the programme became stronger.

This happened again in 2001 when Frank made a gift to the University to build the Rushbrook Fire Laboratory. This state-of-the-art fire research lab is unique to Edinburgh and cemented the research group’s position as one of the best in the world. It played a large part in attracting fellow visionary Prof Torero to lead the Fire Safety Engineering research and teaching at Edinburgh. The combination of these personalities lead to unprecedented growth in research and teaching activity at the University with large research projects and a new undergraduate course. Dr Rushbrook’s long career, foresight and philanthropy was acknowledged with an Honorary Doctorate conferred on him by the University in 2004.
Dr Rushbrook celebrating his 99th birthday with Prof Lygate (centre) and Prof Simeoni (right) in December 2013
On a personal level, I owe much to Dr Rushbrook. His company International Fire Investigators and Consultants Ltd sponsored my PhD allowing me an insight into the fascinating world of fire investigation. In 2012, Frank realized one more vision – to develop research and teaching in fire investigation. With a personal donation to the University, the Rushbrook Lectureship in Fire Investigation was established. I am honoured to be the first holder of the title and I could not have asked for a better mentor and visionary to launch me on my career.

Over the years, Frank would regularly visit the group to inspire and enlighten generations of students through his lectures, stories and vision. Four decades on, his legacy is not simply in creating a profession, it is more than that, it is ensuring it survived.

We had hoped Dr Rushbrook would join us as guest of honour at our 40th anniversary event later this year. Instead, it will be held in his memory.

Rory Hadden